On a Friday afternoon in the Emergency Call Relay Center (ECRC) at West, call volume is steady but manageable. A vehicle collides with a bus, which triggers a 9-1-1 call from the car’s telematics system. A registered nurse from a 24-hour hotline reports a caller complaining of chest pains and nausea. The ECRC call takers identify the location and nature of these emergencies then conduct warm transfers by contacting the appropriate public safety answering point (PSAP) and confirming that the dispatcher and caller can communicate before dropping off.
The mood in the room back in October 2012 was significantly more intense. Then, as Hurricane Sandy surged up the east coast, PSAPs in impacted areas struggled to manage the overwhelming 9-1-1 call volume. The ECRC staff and other West employees worked extended shifts and through scheduled days off to help PSAPs respond to incoming 9-1-1 calls.
In the aftermath of the storm, the ECRC tripled its average call volume at that time, answering about 10,000 calls over three days. This tremendous response from the West team led the Colorado chapters of the Association of Public Safety Communications Officials (APCO) and the National Emergency Number Association (NENA) to recognize the ECRC as PSAP of the year.
Natural Disasters and New Technologies
The ECRC uses a customized solution to route emergency calls from subscribers using emerging telecommunications platforms: Voice-over-IP (VoIP) services, telematics systems, satellite phones and telecommunications relay services (TRS) for the hearing-impaired. Backed by West’s call routing expertise, the ECRC is responsible for locating the right PSAP, even when no provisioned address is available. While the nationwide 9-1-1 system works as designed, the unique nature of these calls require some additional management to get them to the right responding agency.
Occasionally, large-scale incidents like Sandy can also place high demand on local 9-1-1 networks, requiring short-term assistance from a nationwide service. To be ready for athis, West staffs the ECRC with call takers who are prepared to triage a variety of emergencies. The ECRC isn’t a training ground for unproven dispatchers; all successful applicants are required to have at least two years of prior experience at a PSAP.
Building Awareness and Education in the Public Safety Community
So why does the ECRC exist? Director of the ECRC, Lonna Cain, explains. “Sometimes and for a variety of reasons, emergency calls are unable to be routed to the correct PSAP. A driver involved in an accident may need assistance using the telematics system in their car. A caller might be using a satellite phone or a hard of hearing subscriber needs 9-1-1 through their video relay service. The ECRC’s role is to quickly collect enough information to forward these calls to the appropriate responding agency.”
“The chief concern that keeps me up at night is how to build awareness and better relationships with our PSAP partners so that they know who West is when we’re transferring a 9-1-1 call. It’s so critical that the communication between our call taker and the PSAP is fast and efficient. Obviously, the less time we spend explaining our mission, the better the chance the caller will get the assistance they need in time.”
The world of 9-1-1 is more complex than ever. Scientists say that severe weather systems like Hurricane Sandy are becoming more frequent. The ways in which we may connect to
9-1-1—cell phone, VoIP phone, landline, telematics–are expanding. The flexibility of the ECRC means that PSAPs and carriers get support they need, when they need it—regardless of what happens next or where it happens.
To learn more about the ECRC, watch a video with Lonna Cain.
West’s ECRC by the Numbers
- Operates 24x7x365
- Averages more than 20,000 calls a month
- Staffed by call takers with a combined 300 years of PSAP experience